Angela Easterling/Witness/De Liest Music
Four out of Five Stars
Although Angela Easterling still resides slightly below the radar as far as the mainstream market is concerned, it’s hardly her fault. Her accumulated kudos—number one standing for her last album, BlackTop Road, an official AmericanaFest Showcase, spotlight appearances at various regional Folk Alliance gatherings, finalist status at the Kerrville, Telluride, and Wildflower Performing Songwriter festivals, song placement in film, radio, and NPR, and the ongoing praise from both critics and her contemporaries —have garnered her favorable comparisons to the likes of Nanci Griffith, Lucinda Williams and any number of other Americana icons.
Naturally, though, the music speaks far more importantly than the credits alone might imply. Her latest album proves the point. The songs vary in tone and tempo, from the sublime sentiment of “California” and the reflective emotions of “Home,” to the steady stride that underscores “Little Boy Blues” and the echoes of bluegrass shard in “Middle-Age Dream.” Yet she doesn’t shy away from more troubling topics as well, be it gun violence, gender discrimination, or, in a telling replay of the Woody Guthrie classic folk narrative, “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” the tragic consequences of a failed immigration policy.
So too, Easterling doesn’t refrain from speaking to the larger problems that plague society overall, and when she sings, There ain’t no kindness in this life for a woman, I know that God must be man, on the song “Keep Your Head Down, Johnny,” she nails the disparity ably and effectively. She elaborates on that theme courtesy of the closing track “Grow Old,” summing up her stance by stating emphatically, I watched my plans and expectations flow away like lost balloons.
Still, despite its pointed perspective, Witness is decidedly assertive, and in that regard, an implicitly energized set of songs. Here again, the lyrics tell all. I ain’t gonna shut my mouth now, she insists on the aptly-dubbed “Middle-Age Dream, ” making it clear she’s determined to stay the course, come what will. It’s that exacting combination of diligence and desire that makes this particular Witness so absolutely essential.
Photo by Sandlin Gaither / Broken Jukebox Media